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Florida: Dolphin Found Dead After Swallowing Fishing Gear; 'Her Stomach Was Full Of Fish'

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SARASOTA, Florida -- A local bottlenose dolphin was found dead Saturday, Dec. 8, in Venice Inlet and examined by Mote Marine Laboratory scientists, who report that it most likely died from swallowing fishing gear. This case serves as a reminder to keep waterways clear of fishing line and other trash that can harm marine animals.

The female dolphin was 27 years old relatively young and was part of the year-round resident population of bottlenose dolphins in Sarasota Bay, according to the Sarasota Dolphin Research Program, a collaboration between Chicago Zoological Society and Mote that has monitored and studied the local population for 42 years. This dolphin, known as FB93, had been observed since 1985.

The dolphin was found floating in Venice Inlet, between Venice and Casey Key, by a local officer from the Sarasota County Sheriff's Office, who contacted Mote's Stranding Investigations Program and brought the dolphin's carcass to a boat ramp in Nokomis. Mote staff retrieved the carcass and brought it back to Mote's Sarasota facility for examination.

Results of the necropsy, or animal autopsy, suggest that FB93 most likely died from swallowing fishing gear. Fishing line was wrapped tightly and in a slip-knot around the dolphin's "goosebeak" the flexible tube connecting the blowhole to the lungs, likely leading to asphyxiation. The line was stretched taught and connected to a hook embedded in the dolphin's "melon" (forehead). Mote scientists are awaiting lab results that may provide additional details about the animal's condition and demise. However, its case history suggests it had been thriving before it died.

"Except for the fishing line and hook, FB93 appeared to be in excellent condition," said Dr. Randall Wells, Director of the Sarasota Dolphin Research Program, the world's longest-running study of a dolphin population. "She was one of the largest resident females of Sarasota Bay, at nearly 9 feet long and 471 pounds, and her stomach was full of fish."

Wells and his team had documented that FB93 was born to resident dolphin "Squiggy" and had given birth to six calves over her lifetime. Squiggy, now 56 years old, the 20-year-old brother of FB93, and FB93's 3- and 6-year-old calves still live in Sarasota Bay. Her most recent calf, born in June, has not been found and is presumed dead following the loss of its mother.

"This premature loss of a relatively young, productive female in her reproductive prime comes as a blow to the resiliency and sustainability of the Sarasota Bay dolphin community," Wells said. Many Sarasota Bay dolphins have been harmed or even killed through negative interactions with humans, such as boat strikes, ingestion of, and entanglement in fishing gear and illegal feeding of wild dolphins.

Mote's Stranding Investigations Program has recovered 36 stranded or dead dolphins with signs of human interaction during 1984-2009. Of 10 dolphins stranded or found dead this year, three showed signs of human interaction, including Beggar, a local dolphin that developed an unhealthy habit of accepting food from humans after being fed illegally many times. Beggar was found dead in September, very near to where FB93 was recovered, bearing healed puncture wounds, broken ribs and other injuries that appeared to have come from boat strikes, hooks and fishing line in his stomach and other signs of ill health. Though Beggar's carcass was found decomposed and no specific cause of death could be pinpointed, his condition and his behavior observed by the Sarasota Dolphin Research Program suggested that interacting with humans played a major role in his ill health.

Interaction was not always a cause of death for the other animals recovered by Mote, but it is a major risk and a common concern in local waters. A study by the Sarasota Dolphin Research Program found dolphin-human interactions during 16 percent of survey days, when Program staff monitored the local dolphins from a research boat, with about five percent of the resident dolphins involved. Another Program study observed dolphins "patrolling" on about 10 percent of survey days. Patrolling means milling or traveling back and forth within about 65 feet of boats, fishing lines or piers. FB93 had been observed patrolling six times since 2000. Lessening dolphin-human interaction is a key focus of the Sarasota Dolphin Research Program and much of Mote's education and outreach surrounding marine mammals. Bottlenose dolphins and other marine mammals are protected by the U.S. government through the Marine Mammal Protection Act and are an important part of local ecosystems.

Views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of, its staff or its advertisers.

Reader Comments

16 people have commented so far. cloud add your comment

This is so sad, because as humans we are supposed to be the smartest of the animals!! Our "smartness" is killing the world! This poor dolphin had to have suffered greatly, and then to learn her baby is no where to be found is even worse. Humans, start treating our land, waters, animals, birds, etc. with respect!!!
   comment# 1   - Mia · Nebraska, USA · Dec 11, 2012 @ 11:45pm

The one animal that is detrimental to this planet....Humans.
   comment# 5   - Sompopo · Tucker Georgia · Dec 12, 2012 @ 2:23am

These Dolphins need to be more protected!!!
   comment# 2   - Patricia Wicker · Granite Shoals, Texas USA · Dec 12, 2012 @ 7:14am

I still don't understand how people, who are SUPPOSED to be intelligent, can be this careless. This seems to be an avoidable "accident" simply caused by someone not caring what they left behind in the water. People we have to take care of this planet. It's the only one we're going to have for a long, long time, and that means taking care of ALL of its creatures. I would hope, though I very much doubt it, that someone who "witnessed" this "accident" would come forward and turn in whomever did this to a creature that harbors no ill will to humans. I know I would definitely turn in someone who did this, whether or not it was an accident.
   comment# 3   - Cheryl · Fort Myers USA · Dec 12, 2012 @ 9:56am

these precious loving animals hardly cause harm to human beings therefore it should be pounushible to feed them and be responsilble for our fishing gears. lets punish hard on those whom break the law.
   comment# 4   - carlos bonilla · bronx ny · Dec 12, 2012 @ 12:08pm

The last 4 comments come from people not from here, who don't fish and the only time theyve ever seen a dolphin is on TV. DOlphins are curious by nature and most people by nature have a very deep compassion when they first ineract with a dolphin, howbeit misguided. Dolphins don't need more protection, fisherman, and i am an avid fisherman, need to start using more tackle that degrades faster in seawater. There are types of zinc hooks that deteriorate within a few days that would end this issue. Especially when fishing for species that would fall into a typical dolphins menu.
   comment# 6   - Jason · Naples Fl, USA · Dec 12, 2012 @ 2:47pm

god made it ;put man here to destroy it the land and the sea
   comment# 7   - christopher w · thomasville, ga. · Dec 12, 2012 @ 2:55pm

Sad story, again and again and again we read stories that make me ashamed to say I'm a member of the human race.
   comment# 8   - Jason garner · Northampton, UK · Dec 12, 2012 @ 6:06pm

mans gotta play everything else is nothing? so it seems
   comment# 9   - Walter Quick · DeLand Fla. · Dec 12, 2012 @ 9:27pm

Its sad that these smart beautiful dolphins and for that matter any of gods creatures have to die in any other way than natural because of some irresponsible humans in this world. I wish ppl could learn that acting in these ways is hurting other things in this world and when things are going really bad for them i hope god or their higher power what ever it may be shows them images of what there neglect has caused this world. Karma's a real less than respectable female and it does exist. You'll see.
   comment# 10   - Shaun Rupp · San Jose CA, U.S.A. · Dec 13, 2012 @ 1:28am

if the government would have ban fishing hooks and fishing line long ago this would have never happened....
   comment# 11   - just saying · gun barrel usa · Dec 13, 2012 @ 3:39am

Everyone keeps says that someone carelessy left the hook and string which might be the case. However any fisherman knows that sometimes you break a line on the rocks or a fish snaps the line. There is a good chance that this was not intentional. What are you suppose to do jump in off the pier to retrieve your snapped line?
   comment# 12   - Tony L · Riverview FL · Dec 13, 2012 @ 5:42am

It bad news but folks, quit your whinning. It is not possible to protect every living thing on the planet. Want people to quit fishing......quit eating fish. Don't like smog..........let's all buy horses and buggies. Oh, and the computer your using..........most likely made by people that eat dogs........quit buying ALL electronics. Then again, just go back to candles and hearth fire cooking and we can shut down all the power plants. Sad, yes. Asking people to be more careful, yes. All accidents avoidable....not possible.
   comment# 13   - Robert Uranium Foreal · Phoenix, AZ, USA · Dec 13, 2012 @ 8:11am

Jason Naples, you seem to have the right answer to help alleviate this from happening again. What can be done to impliment your suggestion? I do agree with your comments.
   comment# 14   - Mike Simmonds Jr. · U.S. Virgin Islands · Dec 13, 2012 @ 11:31am

Typical that the crimson-necked locals try to make that lame "you're not from here, you don't know". Let's see the Dolphin is dead because of dumb fishermen, and since this isn't a world-famous fishing spot, it's because of dumb LOCAL fishermen. Yeah, we're not from there. Imma counting my blessings.
   comment# 15   - DoctorSerizawa · Chicago, USA · Dec 13, 2012 @ 12:06pm

I think there should be a homicide investigation. Dolphins are people too.
   comment# 16   - George · Venice, FL · Dec 18, 2012 @ 3:56am
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